Selecting the Best Messaging Model for Your Business From Short Codes, Long Codes, and Toll-Free SMS Texts
The business messaging landscape constantly evolves as new technology advancements and innovative ways to engage customers disrupt the ecosystem. Nearly 70 percent of consumer-brand interactions shifted to messaging during the pandemic, and this trend will likely continue as nearly 65 percent of the global population sends and receives SMS messages.
There are several SMS messaging options available to businesses, including short codes, 10-digit long codes (10DLC), and toll-free numbers. Each SMS messaging type has unique strengths best suited for specific use cases. For businesses wanting to keep conversational commerce flowing while also engaging with customers cost effectively and securely, it's essential to understand each messaging type and in which scenario they're most beneficial.
- Short code: Used for texting, a five- or six-digit phone number that the Common Short Code Administration manages. As the best option for supporting large volumes of messages — making them more scrutinized by phone companies — a business can use short codes for a plethora of communications, including marketing promotions, two-factor authentication or appointment alerts.
- 10DLC (Long code): A “10-digit long code,” also known as a standard number, is simply a company’s regular 10-digit phone number. When registered properly with supporting phone companies, these often have the ability to accommodate messaging at volumes higher than that available for usage by an individual for personal use.
- Toll-Free: Often referred to as an 800 number, these can be text enabled and used to send at higher volumes. As a cost-effective sending option, toll-free is also appealing to brands that wish to obtain a recognizable toll-free number with their customers.
There are three major differentiating factors when considering which type of phone number to use for each messaging type. Those factors include time to market, user experience and trust.
Time to Market
Short codes have been around for almost 20 years. The advantage of their history is that application providers, aggregators and phone companies, which combined make up the companies that sit in the middle between a brand sending a message and a consumer receiving it, are well versed in the registration process. While the vetting process may be stricter than other messaging solutions, short codes provide high deliverability and trust.
If time to market is a key priority, standard 10-digit and toll-free numbers take less time to establish business-to-consumer text messaging because of the shorter process by which they're vetted, provisioned and routed to the appropriate network.
The SMS messaging types have varying capabilities that deliver different user experiences for consumers. For example, toll-free numbers and 10DLC can support both voice calls and text messages, whereas short codes are intended to support messaging. Additionally, toll-free numbers and 10DLC allow users to text or call a business via the same contact number.
Toll-free numbers are supported in both the U.S. and Canada, 10DLC supports international delivery, and short codes are used in-country. Short code messaging supports the highest throughput, making it well suited for a business to send time-sensitive, system-generated messages such as bank fraud alerts, authentication pin codes, or shipping and delivery notifications. Short codes also offer a trusted experience through a highly scrutinized activation process, leaving the channel mostly free from spam and nuisance messaging. Because brands are the ones that own the short code, it provides an extra layer of consumer confidence in the messages they receive.
Many customers may already be attempting to text brands — via 10DLC or toll-free numbers — without realizing that their texts aren't going through because the number isn’t text enabled. Unlike personal numbers, business numbers require text-enablement to have two-way conversations with customers. On the flip side, consumers may not be aware that they have the ability to text a traditional phone number. Allowing consumers to engage with brands via their preferred method, such as SMS, is a critical customer experience consideration for all businesses.
Trust was built into the foundation of how short codes are leased, vetted and provisioned, and provides the additional confidence boost because the consumer must initiate the first interaction. Short codes also offer the consumer the ability to opt out at any time — leaving them in control. Phone companies have recently established new processes for vetting 10DLCS, which includes stricter campaign registration requirements, brand traceability, and messaging monitoring.
As it stands today, short codes and toll-free numbers do implicitly have greater trust than messages sent via standard 10DLC, but that's not to say that there aren’t specific use cases when standard 10DLC should be considered. Customers almost always associate text messages from a 1-800 number or a short code with a legitimate business. However, with standard 10DLC numbers, the level of trust tends to be much lower due to high levels of spam and scams that originate from these types of numbers since it's easier for a bad actor to utilize a standard 10DLC number for nefarious purposes.
The telecom industry is continuing to make strides to eliminate fraudulent spam and scam traffic on 10DLC numbers through better monitoring, spam mitigation tools, artificial intelligence, and intensified scrutiny on those intending to participate in business-to-consumer messaging. Nonetheless, while not insurmountable, it does put a greater onus on legitimate businesses that opt to use 10DLC for text messages to ensure that they're known to their customers.
SMS Message Types Used in Combination
While these numbering options all have best use cases, it's also beneficial to use them in combination. For example, a university may need an emergency network to broadcast about a snow day or a serious warning — in which case, short codes would be ideal. For professors who want to engage with their classrooms in back-and-forth conversation, a standard 10DLC number is a great option because it's cost effective and the two parties already know each other and have established a trusted relationship.
Similarly, a national furniture store chain might use short codes for timely holiday discount reminders, a text-enabled toll-free number to simplify how customers can reach them, and a 10DLC for delivery alerts. Keeping customer loyalty and engagement in perspective are key and different phone numbers are best suited for various use cases. Integrating and using the different types of messaging options is not only possible and cost effective, it also drives coveted customer engagement that brands are seeking.
Cliff Holsenbeck is senior director of product at iconectiv, a supplier of network planning and network management services to telecommunications providers.